This Chicago Scientist Is Leading a Double Life as a Fashion Model: 'I Do Lab Work in My Heels'
When Susan Finkbeiner isn’t trudging around in the Amazon rainforest, you can find her modeling the latest fashions in sky-high heels.
The 30-year-old is an entomologist at the University of Chicago who spends weeks and sometimes months out of the year conducting research in Central and South American rainforests. She’s also signed with a Massachusetts model agency, living what some have called a “double life.”
“I know that I’m doing really good, high quality science and I’m very pleased with how my research is going,” Finkbeiner tells PEOPLE. “There have been a couple times where I’ve brought my heels to the lab and I’m doing lab work, practicing in my heels.”
Finkbeiner recently walked in two shows during London’s Fashion week — and she revised two research papers while on her red-eye flight to the U.K., according to the Chicago Tribune.
“I will never forget the first moment I walked out onto the runway during the show. Music playing, the seats are filled … you have spotlights on you and as soon as you turn to walk down the end of the runway you just see dozens of cameras pointed at you and you hear click, click, click, click, click,” she tells PEOPLE.
“It gave me such an adrenaline rush. I was both terrified and excited at the same time. That’s the kind of rush I love.”
Finkbeiner has a bachelor’s degree in entomology from Cornell University and a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Irvine. She specializes in work using butterflies, and has showed off the pinned creatures at the University of Chicago’s Kronforst laboratory.
“I’ve always known since I was really young that I wanted to be a scientist,” the aspiring professor tells PEOPLE. “I knew that I wanted to do work in the field, in the tropics, and be in academia as well.”
She has received several honors and grants from the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian, according to the Tribune. Finkbeiner says that she never really thought about being a model, but after her friends continued to mention that she give it a shot, she decided to contact the Dynasty Models & Talent Agency in Boston.
“It was on a crazy whim. They signed me right away. I was expecting them to say, ‘Oh thanks for coming by, but you’re not what we’re looking for.’ But they seemed really keen on taking me in,” she tells PEOPLE.
“It took a week or so to really sink in. When they confirmed they wanted to take me to London’s Fashion Week, it took me days to just realize, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ Two months ago I was in a muddy jungle doing research!”
With that, Finkbeiner went from studying tropical butterflies to jet-setting off to London — and she says she has no plans of slowing down.
“I found that by getting recognition as a model I can draw attention to women in science in a very different way and to show that you can be girly and be a scientist. They’re not separate things,” she tells PEOPLE. “Not all models are just a pretty face. They’re intelligent and more educated as well. I try to find a way to make people understand that you can do what ever you want and you don’t just have to be one thing.”